Media140: Social Technologies and Science Communication

Kristin: Last week I was in Brisbane for media140:Frontiers, the theme of which was “exploring the impact of social technologies on science communication”. In keeping with the theme, the event was livestreamed and tweeted, and a team of UQ journalism students took vox pop videos and liveblogged, plus there were plenty of photos posted to Flickr.

I confess I started the day a little disappointed as we debated the differences between Twitter and Facebook – I wanted more depth about how and why social technologies might be used effectively. By the end of the day though we’d been able to delve deeper into reasons, examples and issues. And on reflection there were three highlights for me.

1. Opening Keynote: Prof Andrew Maynard

I’ve met Andrew in the context of his work on nanotechnology, public perception and risk and am an admirer of his blog 2020science for the dialogues he creates and encourages. Andrew started talking about the common pitfalls in using social media for science communication (although these are probably pitfalls for social media and in fact communication in general).

  1. Hubris and/or arrogance. Either dismissing the trivialities of the medium, assuming authority or trying to control conversations.
  2. Copying content or approaches with no thought as to cause & effect or inherent value. People are smart and can see through such imitation.
  3. Uncivil behaviour, especially the feeling that saying something is more important than the way in which it is said.

He also talked about the benefits he gains from blogging, including listening and unearthing different perspectives, and how blogging also improves his communications skills (one of the reasons we are running the Australian version of I’m a Scientist this June).

Andrew gave his keynote via Skype from his home library in Michigan and afterwards posted a pre-recorded back-up video.

2. Case Study: Dr Will Grant on Long Conversations

We are working with Will on a study of good practice use of social media by science and research organisations for science communication and so I was aware of Will’s project called the Long Conversations. This project brings together communities and climate scientists to have “calm conversations” about climate change, first at workshops and then through video and online interactions. Hearing Will discuss the theory, approach and then sharing the experiences of those at the first session in Murray Bridge through tag clouds and interviews was fascinating.

3. Panel: “Pepsigate” hosted by Wilson da Silva

The focusing question for the panel was “What happens when a major brand decides to take commercial interest in the publication of blogs about it’s products?”. The panel featured Peter Griffin, the founding manager of the New Zealand Science Media Centre and Sciblogs, Matt Levinson a journalist and science communicator, Becky Crew, Online editor at COSMOS and Darren Osborne the ABC Science News editor. The panel discussed the issues surrounding “Pepsigate” but also touched on astrobiology & NASA, embargoes and @edyong, and overall provided an insightful discussion of some of the issues and shifting areas of grey in blogging, journalism and science communications.

4. Closing Keynote: Kristin Alford on Digital Dysphorias

Ok so not necessarily my highlight, but closing the day was a privilege. I spoke about the feelings on unease and discomfort that we as individuals and communities transverse in living more of our lives online and what that might mean for further connectedness. A podcast of my keynote has been made available here. I’d like to thank everyone for their questions and feedback on the day and for filling in our survey prior. It’s an area that we’d like to follow-up with further research and workshops and we’ve been talking to potential funders to do just that.

Overall Media140 was professionally delivered and succeeded in digging below the usual issues. I hope the videos of the sessions are posted and look forward to reading more blog posts and reflections.


  1. […] happened. Fortunately there were plenty of fantastic bloggers and thinkers on hand. Click Kristin Alford, Craig Thomler, Kate Carruthers, Andrew Maynard and Peter Griffin for […]

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